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Unleashing the Power of Targeted Ads in Education Marketing

Unleashing the Power of Targeted Ads in Education Marketing

Higher education marketing is becoming increasingly more competitive by the minute. As we move toward the 'demographic cliff' of high school graduates in 2025, colleges and universities must find a way to reach prospective students more effectively than their competition. Add decreasing marketing budgets, and the challenges become even more evident. 

Even the best messaging matters little if your ads and content never make it in front of your audience. Fortunately, digital marketing allows your institution to specifically cater to specific groups and individuals.

Used the right way, targeted digital ads are an immensely powerful tool. Instead of broadcasting your message and hoping that the right people are watching at that time, nuanced targeting allows you to spend your budget exclusively on reaching prospective students most likely to enroll at your school. 

Let's dive into targeted ads and how they can propel your recruitment efforts to success.

Table of Contents:

What are Targeted Ads in Higher Education Marketing?

Put simply, targeted advertising describes the ability to use any information you have about your audience to create ads that better match their preferences, pain points, and interests. 

Also known as "narrowcasting," it's an intentional step away from traditional advertising that aims to reach as many eyeballs as possible, regardless of their relevance. 

The Benefits of Targeted Ads for Effective Education Marketing

Targeted advertising benefits your school, as well as your audience, in several ways:

  1. Limiting your ads to relevant audiences means creating content more customized to their interests and needs, which makes them more likely to pay attention.
  2. Because you can better target your messaging, you can build your credibility by highlighting that your school cares about your student's interests and needs. 
  3. Targeting a narrower audience also means more cost-effective advertising, as you won't waste money showing your ads to an audience with little chance of enrolling.
  4. Generally speaking, highly targeted ads generate a higher return on investment (ROI) because they combine lower spending with a higher chance of achieving your desired results.

Finally, target ads can also enhance your other marketing efforts. For example, you can use them to promote blog posts, video content, landing pages, and other content on your website, increasing the visibility of your higher education content marketing efforts.

The Challenges of Using Targeted Ads in Higher Education

Naturally, the above benefits are not automatic. You'll still have to work around a few common challenges of ad targeting, including:

  • Ad targeting depends entirely on the information you have about your audience. Setting it up will be easier if you have a strong sense of who you want to target.
  • It's possible to target your messaging too narrowly. You can go as far as targeting a single user, but if that user feels singled out, you will lose their trust and goodwill.
  • Your targeting options can get confusing if you need clarification on which is best. That can lead to analysis paralysis, negating the benefits of this higher-ed marketing strategy.

The first two of these challenges require a nuanced approach. The third can easily be negated by better understanding the targeting options you have for your ads. 

6 Ways to Target Your Higher Education Ads

The modern nature of digital advertising means you have more than one way to target your ads. Understanding those options is crucial to building a marketing plan designed for success. Some of the most common options include:

1. Demographic targeting: 

The most common type of digital targeting allows you to show ads based on your audience's age, location, gender, and other demographic variables. 

2. Interest-based targeting: 

By liking specific social media pages or searching for specific keywords on Google, your audience lets you know what they're interested in--and you can place ads accordingly.

3. Behavioral targeting: 

Target your ads based on recent actions your audience has taken. For example, Facebook lets you focus only on recent homebuyers or frequent travelers.

4. Website remarketing: 

With tracking pixels, you can target your ads only to users who have recently visited your websites--or even specific pages on your website, like your campus visit pages.

5. Custom audience targeting: 

Upload a list of your inquiries or students signed up for campus visits, and most ad platforms can match their contact info with their social media profiles to target ads directly to them.

6. Lookalike targeting: 

You can also upload a list of your current students, then ask the ad platform to show ads to other online users with similar characteristics.

None of these targeting options is inherently superior to the others. In fact, a combination might work best within your larger education marketing plan. In addition, their benefits depend heavily on how you segment your target audience to build your marketing strategy.

How to Segment Your Audiences for a Better Education Marketing Plan

A better understanding of how you can target your ads is vital to start strategizing. From there, it's about building the right audience segments to implement those targeting parameters.

For example, you could leverage demographic targeting to run different messaging for students in your home market vs. students from other states. Similarly, you can run campaigns to varying stages of the enrollment funnel, like for your inquiries and your admitted students, with different custom audience lists. The same applies to running separate campaigns with tailored messages to prospective parents.

The segmenting possibilities are nearly endless. That's why an essential piece of the puzzle is working closely with your admissions team on what segments make the most sense based on their recruitment strategy and messaging. 

It also helps to build audience personas that allow for a deeper understanding of your prospective student segments. The nuances that can come out of these personas go a long way toward helping you build your segments -- and, of course, each of them can become the basis for an interest-based or behavioral targeting campaign.

Optimizing Your Higher Education Digital Marketing with Targeted Ads

Of course, simply leveraging in-depth ad targeting is not enough for automatic success. Especially if you're new to the concept, setup can be complicated, and you still need a strategy to track your ad results and optimize your campaign over time.

That's where an external marketing partner can enter the equation. Working with the right higher education marketing agency means you can build highly targeted multi-channel campaigns that integrate smoothly into your overall marketing and recruitment strategy. 

Ready to get started? Let's chat! 

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FAQ Recap:


What are targeted ads in higher education marketing, and how do they differ from traditional advertising?

Targeted ads involve creating content that matches the preferences, pain points, and interests of specific audience segments. This approach, known as "narrowcasting," moves away from traditional advertising's broad reach to intentionally reach audiences with higher relevance.


What are the benefits of using targeted ads for effective education marketing?

  1. Limiting ads to relevant audiences creates customized content, increasing audience engagement.

  2. Targeted messaging enhances credibility by demonstrating a focus on students' interests and needs.

  3. Narrowing the audience leads to more cost-effective advertising.

  4. Highly targeted ads often result in a higher return on investment (ROI).

  5. Targeted ads can complement other marketing efforts by promoting various content on your website.


What challenges are associated with using targeted ads in higher education marketing?

  1. Ad targeting relies on available audience information.

  2. There's a risk of targeting messaging too narrowly, potentially alienating the audience.

  3. Understanding and selecting the most effective targeting options can be challenging.


What are the ways to target higher education ads effectively?

  1. Demographic targeting: Target ads based on age, location, gender, and other demographic variables.

  2. Interest-based targeting: Place ads based on audience interests, identified through social media pages and online searches.

  3. Behavioral targeting: Target ads based on recent actions taken by the audience, such as recent purchases or travel activities.

  4. Website remarketing: Display ads to users who have recently visited specific pages on your website.

  5. Custom audience targeting: Upload lists of inquiries or students to target ads directly to them.

  6. Lookalike targeting: Show ads to users with characteristics similar to your existing students.


How can audience segmentation enhance education marketing plans?

Audience segmentation involves dividing your target audience into specific groups based on demographics, behaviors, or interests. This process allows for tailored targeting parameters and helps build a more effective marketing strategy.


How should I segment audiences for a better education marketing plan?

Segmentation possibilities are vast, allowing you to create tailored campaigns for various student segments, enrollment funnel stages, or even prospective parents. It's crucial to collaborate with the admissions team to identify meaningful segments based on recruitment strategy and messaging.


How can an external marketing partner help optimize targeted ad campaigns in higher education?

An experienced higher education marketing agency can assist in setting up and optimizing targeted ad campaigns. They bring expertise to create highly targeted multi-channel campaigns aligned with your overall marketing and recruitment strategy.


Is targeted ad setup complicated, especially for those new to the concept?

Setting up targeted ads can be complex, especially for beginners. However, an external marketing partner can simplify the process, guiding you through the setup, tracking ad results, and optimizing campaigns over time.


How can I get started with leveraging targeted ads in higher education marketing?

If you're ready to explore the power of targeted ads in your higher education marketing strategy, reach out to discuss your goals and develop a tailored plan for success.


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